China Observations – The Haircut!

I’ve purposely grown out my hair so I don’t need haircuts all that often (once a year?) But the last time I got it cut when I was “abroad” was in Vienna… But an Australian. She did an amazing job and it cost me 25$ and a beer. (She threw in a vegemite toastie- so it was a fair trade).


Here is my aunt’s experience. (spoiler: no beer or vegemite).

Sitting on the bus today I suddenly found myself thinking about genetics. How is it that thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago evolution decided that folks in one part of the world would be born with intensely curly hair, while folks in another part of the world (including the woman I was staring at) would have deadly straight hair? An understandable question, given that I was about to get my first Shanghai haircut. Would they know how to cut my curly hair? And how would I tell them about the idiosyncrasies I have learned to live with?


Jim came to this beauty salon four weeks ago and was given a fabulous haircut! Maybe one of the best he’s ever had!   Of course, it’s unpleasant that the shop takes advantage of foreigners who can’t speak Chinese. The exorbitant rates they charge the “verbally challenged” are hellish. However, I decided that the devil you know might be better than the devil you don’t. And so, in I went.


As soon as I’d crossed the threshold, three young men on my left popped out of their seats and bowed to me. The woman on my right, spoke one word: “Yes?” “Cut?” I asked, using my fingers to indicated a snipping action. “Ah, yes,” she replied and pointed to one of the bowing young men. In half a heartbeat he had washed and rinsed my hair three times, massaging my scalp during each stage. His strong fingers and warm water assured me that communication was highly overrated. I was doing just fine.


Next, I was passed along to the fellow who would actually do the cutting. I sat down in his chair. He stood behind me and stared at my wet curly locks. After a few moments, he ran off. He returned with a white poncho type garment (just like at home) and draped it over me. Then ran off again. I looked around at the other customers, and saw that I was the only one wearing the protective plastic. My hairdresser returned carrying a stool. I noticed that he was the only one who felt a stool was going to be necessary. He sat down and then readjusted his view (and the stool) every twelve inches, or so, until he had almost completely encircled me. Surely, I could not have been his first curly haired customer?! But I couldn’t even ask him.


As I sat there (feeling like a specimen), I analyzed his own personal hair preference. It was something between Elvis and a Mohawk. Not exactly a choice I would make, but then, who am I to judge what makes him happy, right? What made me happy?   Mr. Pompadour was taking my shoring extremely seriously. Suddenly he stood up! Apparently a decision had been made; he pushed the stool aside, took a comb and scissors, and combed my soggy hair forward over my eyes.


Now, I realized that verbal communication was futile, but non-verbal communication had not even been attempted! He neither needed nor wanted input of any kind. I watched curly snippets fall onto the poncho. I had no choice. I would be stuck with whatever he designed.   I thought, “Relax. This is just a haircut! What’s the worse that can happen? You’ll leave the shop looking like … Mr. Pompadour?”


He snipped each hair and manicured each layer so precisely that this experience took over an hour. Finally, he ran off to find a large mirror so I could see his handiwork from every angle. He was obviously proud — strutting and beaming, and calling the other stylists over to show them his creation. It wasn’t the haircut that I would have requested, but it was actually terrific. Sometimes you have to be open to how others see you – or how they might imagine you at your best. No words necessary.


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